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Joe Biden was told to “burn in hell” following a supposedly “scripted and shallow” meeting in which families were agitated by a president who they say checked his watch and spoke more about his own dead son than the 13 troops killed last week in Afghanistan.
As Mr Biden left Dover Air Force Base after meeting families who had just received the bodies of their loved ones from Kabul airport, one woman screamed: “I hope you burn in hell! That was my brother!”
The raw and emotional scene was described by Mark Schmitz, father of 20-year-old Jared Schmitz, in The Washington Post. Mr Schmitz said he grew agitated as Mr Biden appeared to check his watch and responded bluntly when asked to remember the men and women killed in Kabul.
“I said, ‘Don’t you ever forget that name. Don’t you ever forget that face. Don’t you ever forget the names of the other 12... and take some time to learn their stories’,” Mr Schmitz told the president.
Mr Biden responded curtly and didn’t like the comment, Mr Schmitz told the Post, and reportedly said: “I do know their stories”.
It’s unclear from video of Mr Biden at the dignified transfer whether the president actually checked his watch during the solemn moment; he could be seen glancing down as he lowered his arms. Some of the family members of the fallen service members have criticised him for appearing to check his watch. Former president Donald Trump also joined the fray.
“When he just kept talking about his son so much it was just – my interest was lost in that. I was more focused on my own son than what happened with him and his son,” Mr Schmitz said.
“I’m not trying to insult the president, but it just didn’t seem that appropriate to spend that much time on his own son.”
Beau Biden, a military veteran who was deployed to Iraq, died of brain cancer in 2015, and the president has used his death in an attempt to connect with families that have suffered similar grief.
Jiennah McCollum, the pregnant wife of Marine Lance Corporal Rylee McCollum, was left disappointed by Mr Biden’s conversation, her sister Roice McCollum told Post of what she described as a “scripted and shallow” exchange.
“You cannot kneel on our flag and pretend you care about our troops. You can’t f*** up as bad as he did and say you’re sorry. This did not need to happen, and every life is on his hands,” Ms McCollum said.
“The thousands of Afghans who will suffer and be tortured is a direct result of his incompetence.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended the president when asked about the meeting.
“While his son did not lose his life directly in combat as they did – or directly at the hands of a terrorist, as these families did that they’re mourning – he knows, as I just said, firsthand that there’s nothing you can say, nothing you can convey, to ease the pain and to ease what all of these families are going through,” Ms Psaki told reporters.
“It is certainly the right of any individual who met with the president yesterday to speak publicly about their experience,” she added.
Other families, meanwhile, refused to speak to the president. Darin Hoover, the father of Taylor Hoover, told Fox News his family “didn’t want him anywhere near us” while saying Mr Biden checked his watch every time a coffin was taken off the plane.
“They would release the salute, and he would look down at his watch on every last one, all 13, he looked down at his watch,” Mr Hoover told Fox.
“As a father, seeing that and the disrespect, and hearing from his former leaders, one of [Taylor’s] master sergeants said … that this was avoidable – that they left them over there: They had them over there and let them down, and we can’t have that. It can’t happen ever again,” he added.
Before the meeting, Kathy McCollum told SiriusXM Patriot radio on Saturday that she was woken up at 4am by two Marines telling her that her son had died.
“I never thought in a million years [my son] would die for nothing, for nothing, because that feckless, dementia-ridden piece of crap who decided he wanted a photo-op on September 11. That’s what kills me,” she said.
The emotion from families has become so heated that one woman, Shana Chappell, mother of 20-year-old Lance Corporal Kareem M Nikoui, said her Instagram account was deleted and a Facebook post removed for criticizing Mr Biden.
“It seems Instagram took it upon themselves to delete my account because i [sic] am assuming it was because i gained so many followers over my sons death due to Biden’s negligence, ignorance and him being a traitor!” Ms Chappell posted on Facebook.
“I’m gonna assume that Facebook is gonna delete me next. Funny how these leftist one sided pieces of crap don’t want the truth to come out! Keep in mind i only posted about my heart break over my son.”
A Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to The Independent that her account was deleted by accident and that it had since been reinstated.
“We express our deepest condolences to Ms Chappell and her family. Her tribute to her heroic son does not violate any of our policies. While the post was not removed, her account was incorrectly deleted and we have since restored it,” the statement said.